There is no security threat to American troops or citizens in Niger, signaling the American force’s continued presence in the African country, said Pentagon’s chief spokesman General Pat Ryder in a Tuesday press briefing as cited in a report by the US-based military.com news outlet.
Ryder, however, asserted that while security cooperation between the US military and Niger has been suspended, “We maintain close contact with our Niger military counterparts in the country, as the situation continues to unfold” and “when necessary [and] environment permitting,” service members are still able to go off base to foster that engagement.
“We are going to continue to be focused on using diplomatic tools to try to preserve Niger’s hard-earned democracy,” Ryder went on to emphasize, suggesting potential US intervention to restore the ousted, Western-backed government in power.
Niger’s President Mohammad Bozum was seized by members of his presidential guard and put under house arrest late last week in a military coup attempt.
According to the report, Ryder further hesitated to describe the political situation in Niger as a coup and instead emphasized that military leaders are closely monitoring the situation there.
“The situation is still very fluid,” he claimed, before insisting that it was too early to describe “the nature of the ongoing developments.”
Evacuations from Niger accelerate
Meanwhile, the first military planes carrying mostly European nationals evacuated from Niger landed in Paris and Rome on Wednesday, with France and other countries expected to fly more of their citizens out of the West African country, according to wire reports.
An Italian military plane carrying 87 evacuees from Niger arrived in Rome early on Wednesday, the reports added, noting that France is expected to operate more evacuation flights on Wednesday.
The US military further declared that Joint Chiefs Chairman, Gen. Mark Milley, had a telephone conversation with Niger’s chief of defense, Lt. Gen. Issa Abdou Sidikou, on Thursday, as the two officials “discussed the security of Americans and the developing situation in Niger.”
US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller also confirmed on Tuesday that Secretary of State Anthony Blinken had spoken to Bazoum several times last week without elaborating on details.
The development comes as Italy, France, and Germany said they were making preparations to evacuate their citizens from Niger after last week’s coup.
Niger’s borders have been closed to commercial flights since the coup has sent shockwaves across the Sahel region, where Niger’s Western sponsors have expressed fears of losing influence to Russia.
The coup in the impoverished nation that had long remained under the colonial rule of Western countries has drawn condemnation from its international partners, such as the US, the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, and its former colonizer, France.
Niger is the world’s seventh-biggest producer of uranium, the radioactive metal widely used for nuclear energy and treating cancer.